Crisis management – it’s kids stuff and other odds and sods

Crisis management is not that hard – just ask children in a UK school – as the blog discovered reading an article by Lucy Kellaway a former Financial Times management editor (a post she described as FT bullshit correspondent). Kellaway left full time journalism to become a teacher and founder of an organisation which encouraged business boys and girls to turn to teaching as a second late career life.

Kellaway also wrote the hilarious book, Martin Lukas: Who Moved my Blackberry, a modern day epistolary novel in the form of emails. It excoriates the management speak we all wish to escape and the constant re-organisation by change managers which explain much about why productivity isn’t improving in western countries.

Anyway Kellaway started off her teaching career as a mathematics teacher but found she wasn’t getting very far with long lectures on laws of big numbers with 15 year olds rather than the foundations of numeracy and realised it might be better to start teaching about something which she knew more about – the business world and how it operates.

In the Weekend Financial Times (8/9 September 2018) she recounts her trial business studies lesson. “The topic was customer service, and the lesson took place a few days after two black men had been arrested in a Star Bucks in Philadelphia, ostensibly because they failed to order any coffee. I showed the largely black class the video of the men being led away in handcuffs and told them to imagine they were chief executive of Starbucks. What would they do to repair the damage?”

They took about five minutes to come up with an answer – replace the store manager, apologise and train staff to make sure it doesn’t happen again. The London teenagers took five minutes to come to the conclusion – it took Starbucks management a bit longer.

Don’t look here – look over there

David Thomson, a former Rio and Brambles senior manager (and a very good blog friend) spent some time in Japan. One of the things he observed there was another crisis management lesson – shift people’s attention from the real problem to one of great emotional significance.

The blog thought of the lesson when the Japanese announced they were resuming whaling – for scientific reasons of course. Predictably even Australia’s conservative government reacted strongly as did others. Presumably our Pentecostal PM was worried they might inadvertently kill a sacred whale which had swallowed Jonah but other governments and environmental groups were sure they were fighting for a deep issue.

Now it should be said that neither David nor the blog is in favour of whaling – it serves no useful purpose; kills intelligent creatures; and, despite Japanese claims of a long historical cultural significance eating whale meat was a US introduction during the post-war occupation.

But while we were looking at whaling Japanese fishing fleets (among others) were denuding the seas of Patagonian tooth fish and other species. While some energy went into the latter it was never the emotional issue whaling was – demonstrating that look there and don’t look here works well.

Donald Trump is probably the leading contemporary exponent of the look here theory with his Tweets which serve as a suitable distraction from all the other things going on – although whether this is a deliberate strategy, a failure of news media or just a manifestation of his egoism is another question.

Interestingly, the cellist Yo Yo Ma – in a break from his six continent tour performing the six Bach cello suites in a two hour plus concert – was interviewed for the same FT issue as Kellaway. Asked if he would perform for Donald Trump (he played for Obama and John and Jackie Kennedy when he was seven) he replied diplomatically “I also think, just by observing the performance arts world, huge ego is very often matched by huge insecurity”.

Western civilisation and the Judeo-Christian culture – more from the FT

For much of history western civilisation and Judeo-Christian culture has been an oxymoron but that hasn’t stopped Tony Abbott and others loudly proclaiming the need to teach it at centres like the proposed Ramsay Western civilisation course which ANU knocked back on the reasonable academic grounds that universities weren’t meant to be propaganda outlets.

Michael Ignatieff, in reviewing books (ibid FT) – Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment by Francis Fukuyama and The Lies that Bind: Rethinking Identity by the philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah –talks about one of the great lies about “western civilisation”.

“Even our cultural differences get ‘essentialised’, with Europeans believing they are the heirs of ‘western civilisation’, one of those lies that obscures what the west owes to other cultures. When we say that Aristotle, Plato and Socrates are fathers of the western canon, we forget that Greek and Latin had almost entirely died out in northern Europe during the Dark Ages and Europe recovered their work thanks to translations by Arab and Islamic scholars in Cordoba, Seville and Toledo.”

The proponents of the Judeo-Christian heritage also overlook two other important historic facts about the Christian half of the hyphenated tradition. It is often said that many classical works – from philosophy to plays – were ‘lost’. In fact they were not lost but destroyed by Christians who found them heretical just as they murdered – incited by a bishop subsequently made a saint – the philosopher Hypatia. And as for the Judeo half of the hyphen it is not so hard to forget that for almost two millennia the Christians murdered and persecuted Jews as ‘killers of Christ.”

Now all that would be an excellent subject for any proposed Ramsay course on Western civilisation to consider perhaps with some optional studies in the Thirty Years War and the Inquisition. Any university would be proud to host it.